No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide at No. 10 Tennessee Vols
Line: Tennessee -3
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tennessee
When: Wednesday, 2/15 at 7:00 p.m. ET
No. 1 Alabama will be looking to take another leap toward an SEC regular-season title when it travels to No. 10 Tennessee tonight.
The Crimson Tide have already taken multiple historic steps this season, with the latest being a move to the top of the AP poll for the first time since the 2002-03 season following a win over Auburn on Saturday. They are the lone major-conference team that is still unbeaten in league play, using a late run to get past the Tigers in their rivalry tilt.
Meanwhile, Tennessee is coming off the most brutal week possible, losing to Vanderbilt and Missouri on a pair of buzzer-beating 3-pointers after veteran guard Santiago Vescovi missed free throws on the other end. The Vols are no longer realistic title contenders in the SEC, but that has not stopped oddsmakers from making them home favorites tonight.
Offshore sportsbook BetOnline opened Tennessee as a 2.5-point favorite on Tuesday afternoon, while the total opened at 143.5. By this morning, most spots had UT -3 with the total in the 144.5 (Westgate SuperBook) to 146 (offshores) range. These teams have gone ‘under’ in nine straight meetings at Thompson-Boling Arena and in nine straight meetings overall.
Alabama’s lone loss in its last 14 games came during the SEC/Big 12 Challenge when it was blown out at Oklahoma, but the Crimson Tide have responded with four straight wins over Vanderbilt, LSU, Florida and Auburn. They were able to overcome Brandon Miller’s 0 of 7 effort from 3-point range on Saturday, which ended his streak of 15 straight games with a made 3-pointer.
“I thought our guys showed some resilience to weather a bad shooting night from Brandon,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “We had some other guys step up.”
Rylan Griffin and Mark Sears went a combined 5 of 8 from the perimeter, scoring 16 and 15 points, respectively. Miller leads Alabama’s offense, which ranks No. 13 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings, with 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. The Crimson Tide continue to deal with turnover issues, ranked No. 213 in that category.
They are going to be tested by a Tennessee defense that is No. 1 in defensive field goal percentage and No. 17 in turnover rate. The Vols are coming off one of their worst defensive showings of the season, giving up 86 points to Missouri on Saturday. They overcame a 17-point second-half deficit before a Vescovi missed free throw and a Tobe Awaka lane violation led to a game-winning triple from DeAndre Gholston at the buzzer.
“We all hurt for (Vescovi),” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “He’s hurting. I hurt for him because he knows he had a chance, two games in a row, to put a game on ice. But he’s won a lot of games for us. I hate it for him. I do, because where we are today and where we’ve been, he’s had a lot to do with it.”
Vescovi leads the Vols with 12.2 points per game, but the team is outside the top 50 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings. They could be shorthanded on Wednesday, as veteran Josiah-Jordan James and freshman Julian Phillips are both ‘questionable’ to play. James and Phillips are combining for 18.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
Tennessee continues to struggle from the perimeter, ranked No. 233 in 3-point percentage (32.9). The Vols are also outside the top 200 in turnover rate, so they have been relying on their second-ranked offensive rebounding percentage to salvage their possessions.
They are facing an Alabama defense that is No. 2 in 3-point percentage (26.3) and leads the country in 2-point percentage (41.9). The Crimson Tide do not force many turnovers though, ranked No. 311 in that category. They notched a 73-68 win as 7-point home favorites when these teams met last season.
Alabama is 10-3 against the spread in its last 13 games, going ‘under’ in six of its last eight games. Tennessee is 1-4 ATS in its last five games and has gone ‘under’ in four of its last six contests.
Alabama has an injury for bettors to check tonight, too. Charles Bediako is listed as ‘questionable’ due to a knee injury. Bediako averages 5.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots per game.
The pick: Tennessee -2.5
I was a big fan of laying the points when Alabama traveled to Auburn on Saturday, but I am going to go the other way in this game. Tennessee is going to be a trickier team to deal with than the Tigers for several reasons. The Vols are the nation’s No. 1 defensive team, and they are not going to launch ill-advised 3-pointers from a few feet inside the half-court line like Auburn tends to do. I’m not sure there’s an emotional edge here for either team, as the Crimson Tide are coming off a comeback rivalry win and the Vols are coming off consecutive buzzer-beating losses. Either way you slice it, both teams have to reset mentally. I have more faith in Tennessee doing that in front of its sold-out crowd, where it has gone 28-2 in its last 30 games at Thompson-Boling Arena. There is a ton of pressure on Alabama after achieving the No. 1 spot in the polls for the first time in 20 years, and we often see that ranking creating trouble for teams in their following game.